RIO DE JANEIRO — The nail-biters ended for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team.
So did a golden era of international basketball.
Emphatically stopping a stretch of three straight close games, the Americans advanced to the semifinals by sprinting past Manu Ginobili and Argentina, 105-78 on Wednesday night.
In front of a chanting, flag-waving crowd of Argentines who came to throw a raucous farewell party for their Golden Generation, the Americans delivered their most complete performance in Rio.
“What a remarkable run by Argentina and so we knew we had to match that energy tonight. I thought we did,” U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Turning a slow start into an early ending with a 27-2 run in the first half, the Americans put away one old rival and set up a meeting with another. They will play Spain on Friday in a rematch of the last two gold-medal games.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points for the Americans, who had played three straight close games for the first time under Krzyzewski, setting off a round of questions at home and in Rio de Janeiro about what was wrong with them.
The answer might be nothing. At least there wasn’t against Argentina.
“We wanted to come out and our whole thing was dominating,” forward Carmelo Anthony said.
The Americans eliminated Argentina for the third straight Olympics, this time ending not only a tournament run for the Argentines but also a couple careers.
Ginobili, 39, and longtime 36-year-old teammate Andres Nocioni retired from international competition after the game, 12 years after winning gold in Athens.
“We had a chance to grow up together and do some good things, win some games together. It was fun. It’s a lot of years,” said Luis Scola, who is also 36 but plans to keep playing. “We formed part of something unique we did for our country and it’s going to be there. Sometimes we’re not going to win, like today, sometimes we won but we fought together for many years.”
Ginobili scored 14 points in his final game in Argentina’s blue and white, tearing up after receiving applause from his fans and warm wishes from his opponents.
“They congratulated me and I’m very proud of their words,” Ginobili said. “They were very kind, very respectful and when legends of the game showed their respect, it has an extra value.”
The Americans have won 23 straight in the Olympics since Argentina beat them in the 2004 semifinals, and this was how they usually do it: too much firepower, too much defense, and way too much talent.
Women’s water polo
It got physical, very physical, and that’s just fine with the U.S. women’s water polo team.
Maggie Steffens scored four times, and the United States clawed its way back to the Olympic final with a rugged 14-10 victory over Hungary.
Winners of 21 in a row, including its five games in Rio de Janeiro by a combined score of 61-27, the U.S. has met every challenge as the favorite to become the first country to win consecutive gold medals since the tournament was added to the Olympics in 2000.
Poked and prodded by Hungary, the U.S. pushed back with its relentless attack.
“We kind of say bring it on,” Steffens said. “We want to beat teams at their best game. Hungary’s a very physical team, that’s what makes them great.”
Next up is Italy, which advanced to Friday’s final with a 12-9 victory over Russia. Italy also is a perfect 5-0 in Rio, winning by a combined score of 51-31.
John Speraw ran along the sideline about as close as he could to actually being in the action, cheering Aaron Russell to make a save while crashing into the barrier some 20 feet behind the end line.
“I was willing him to get that ball,” the U.S. coach said. “I’m into it. It’s the Olympic Games.”
Russell didn’t quite get there. Moments later, Micah Christenson pulled off a nearly identical play and kept the point going.
It has taken that kind of hustle — not to mention several heart-to-hearts — for the semifinals-bound U.S. men’s volleyball team to put itself in position for an Olympic medal.
“It gives me goosebumps talking about it and thinking about it because those are the plays that we’re all making for each other,” said Christenson, one of eight U.S. first-time Olympians. “We’re sacrificing everything we have for each other and we can really see that, it’s really evident in our play. And I don’t think that’s ever going to stop. Those are kind of defining moments in our tournament that really help us.”
The fifth-ranked Americans topped second-ranked Poland 25-23, 25-22 25-20 on Wednesday, building serious momentum at Maracanazinho arena after dropping their initial two matches to Canada and Italy before stunning Brazil and finishing off France.
The U.S. next plays Friday against Italy, which beat Olympic first-timer Iran 31-29, 25-19, 25-17.
Inbee Park could tell right away that this was not an ordinary golf tournament.
Walking onto the practice range, the South Korean flag on her red shirt and the Olympic rings just about everywhere she looked, the jangled nerves made her realize that playing in the Olympics — the first for women’s golf since 1900 — brought the kind of pressure she doesn’t usually feel.
On the golf course, Park was as unflappable as ever.
Facing top competition for the first time in two months, Park was flawless in a round of 5-under 66 that left her one shot behind Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand.
Seiyoung Kim of South Korea also shot a 66.
Track and field
It’s no easy thing to push Usain Bolt, even in an Olympic warm-up race.
Might be even tougher upstaging him.
But that happened on a wild Wednesday night in track. It began with the Jamaican star smiling, then wagging his finger at a brash up-and-comer in the 200-meter semifinals. It kept going with another Jamaican, Elaine Thompson, completing the first 100-200 women’s double since 1988. And it closed with an American sweep of the hurdles to put the cherry on top of a seven-medal day for the United States on the track.
Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin finished 1-2-3 in the 100-meter hurdles to give the United States its first sweep in the event and only its seventh in the history of Olympic track.
It was a not-all-unexpected result, though this might be an eye-opener: Both 2008 champion Dawn Harper-Nelson and the current world-record holder, Keni Harrison, were back home watching on TV after failing to crack the top three at the Olympic trials.
Also parading the stars and stripes were long-jumpers Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, who finished 1-2, steeplechaser Evan Jager, who won silver earlier in the day, and Tori Bowie, who added a 200-meter bronze to her 100 silver.
“Who wouldn’t be thankful for another medal?” Bowie said. “Now, I have two.”
So does Thompson.
The 24-year-old Jamaican got off to a strong start and held off reigning world champion Dafne Schippers, who belly flopped at the finish line, but finished .10 seconds behind.
Thompson became the first woman since Marion Jones in 2000 to win both Olympic sprints. Jones’ records have since been stripped, so Thompson goes in the record book in place of Florence Griffith-Joyner, who starred in the Seoul Games in 1988.
The evening’s most entertaining theatre came, as usual, from Bolt, who will go for his eighth Olympic gold medal Thursday.
His main goal during the opening rounds is to conserve energy, which is exactly what he was doing when he looked to his right, saw Canada’s Andre de Grasse a few steps behind and put it on cruise control.
Only problem was, de Grasse didn’t back down. He sped up, caught up and, suddenly, the two were nose to nose, smiling at each other down the stretch. Bolt finished in 19.78 to win by a scant .02 seconds. He wagged his finger at the up-and-comer as they crossed the line.
“That was really unnecessary,” Bolt said. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. He’s a young kid, he’s great. He has a lot of talent. I’m looking forward to the competition in the final.”
One man who won’t be there is Justin Gatlin, who has given Bolt more run for his money than anyone over the past four years. In the evening’s biggest stunner, Gatlin finished third in his heat and did not qualify for the final.
A lost medal opportunity for the Americans, for sure. But they’re ahead of the game.
Their wins Wednesday gave them 19 for the meet, which is already one more than they won through the entire world championships last year in Beijing.
Decathlete Ashton Eaton is a candidate to add to that haul. The defending champion finished Day 1 with a solid 121-point lead over Kai Kazmirek of Germany.
Other highlights from Day 12:
Beach bronze: Few bronze medal games featured a more intriguing matchup than the one on Copacabana Beach, where Americans Kerri Walsh Jennings, who has won three gold medals, and April Ross beat Brazil’s top-seeded team of Talita and Larissa 17-21, 21-17, 15-9.
Wrestling history: Japan’s Kaori Icho has become the first wrestler in Olympic history to win four gold medals, beating Russia’s Valeriia Koblova Zholobova 3-2 in 58-kilogram women’s freestyle. Icho also is the first woman to win an individual gold medal in four straight Olympics, having started her historic run at the inaugural women’s tournament in Athens in 2004.
Brazil advances: Brazil’s celebrated men’s soccer team rolled to a 6-0 win over Honduras in the semifinals to earn a spot in the gold medal match against Germany, a 2-0 winner against Nigeria.